Braun & The Juice
Reading this fine entry at Disciples of Uecker today got me thinking about Ryan Braun and the drama that has surrounded him since ESPN leaked the story of his failed drug test. While I tend to believe Braun’s contention that he didn’t take a PED, I have no illusions that he won’t be suspended for the first 50 games of the upcoming season. The rules on this matter are pretty clear–he had a bad test; MLB doesn’t care why or what extenuating circumstances there are.
The real shame is that there seems to be a reason why 8 took whatever he took: Some unspecified “medical situation,” which I suppose resulted in the high testosterone readings he pegged, might have been for a condition that may be embarrassing to disclose. Still, his suspension will paint him with the Bonds Brush and the general, rank and file MLB fan will believe Braun was juicing last season and will contend that is why he won the MVP.
I have wondered about the whole steroids in sports issue for years. I have been slow to condemn those found using because I’ve always had a lingering ambivalence about it. My stance has always been to joke about it, saying that I think all players should be required to go on The Needle because it would enhance their performance and, hence, provide me, the sports fan schmuck who throws down his money to watch them, with a greater degree of entertainment. But the whole Braun thing has caused me to look more closely at my feelings, to take a more serious approach to the subject. I suspect many won’t like where I am on the topic right now.
It is my understanding that these drugs are illegal to use for non-medical purposes at the moment in the US. If that is right, MLB rules are meaningless as using them to enhance performance is a criminal activity and users should face prosecution (Hard Time in The Big House trumps a league suspension). But there was a time when these drugs were not illegal to use without a prescription and that might be true again someday. In those instances, I wouldn’t have a problem if, in fact, every professional athlete was on them. Why not? Their chosen profession is, by definition, highly competitive. Why wouldn’t they look for every edge they can? Actually doing so is, of course, stupid because using PEDs can have nasty side-effects (shrunken jewels, anyone?) including premature death. Not for me, thank you. But, then again, I would never ram my head repeatedly into piles of 300 pound men or train like a freakin’ mad man in order to excel at a sport. But for those who want it that bad, who are willing to sacrifice to play their game of choice, I don’t believe it is for me to say they shouldn’t employ every weapon at their disposal in pursuit of their goal. As long as they are the ones bearing the consequences and are the only person they are hurting, I think they should be allowed to have at it.
I know there is an argument about how using PEDs sets a horrible example for young athletes. But I think the USS Role Model set sail long ago — these men and women have not been exemplars for the broader society for quite some time. Kids need to be disabused of that notion — by their families — early on.
So if it weren’t illegal to do so, I can see no reason why any player who is seeking to improve their performance shouldn’t be allowed to blow up like Bruce Banner if that is their desire. Professional sports, like swimsuit modelling, is a complete freak show anyway, made up of people who aren’t like you and me — everything about their lives is alien to that of regular people (other than the fact that the Reaper will get them, too, at some point). So why pretend this is something that it’s not? After all, if this is a door open to all, it certainly levels the playing field.